What Did the AAP Say About Sending Kids Back to School?

The AAP has offered guidance for a safe way to get our kids back in school during the COVID-19 pandemic. Will schools follow any of it when they open up?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued some guidance about what to do about kids going to school this fall.

The AAP said a lot more than that parents should send their kids back to school. They offered guidance on how to safely send kids back to school...
The AAP said a lot more than that parents should send their kids back to school. They offered guidance on how to safely send kids back to school…

Not surprisingly, folks are a little confused about what they actually said…

What Did the AAP Say About Sending Kids Back to School?

It is true, the AAP guidance does favor opening up schools this fall.

“With the above principles in mind, the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families.”

COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry

But, that isn’t all they said…

The goal is for kids to be in school this fall...

To get to that goal of opening schools, the AAP offered a list of key principles that schools should follow, including that:

  • school policies are going to have to be “flexible and nimble” so that they can quickly change as we get new information, especially “when specific policies are not working”
  • schools develop strategies that depend on the levels of COVID-19 cases in the school and community
  • schools make special considerations and accommodations for those who need them, “including those who are medically fragile, live in poverty, have developmental challenges, or have special health care needs or disabilities, with the goal of safe return to school”

So clearly, this is not a one-size-fits-all, lets open up schools no matter what kind of thing.

“Highest Risk: Full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.”

CDC on Considerations for Schools

The AAP didn’t say to simply open up schools without doing anything else…

“No single action or set of actions will completely eliminate the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, but implementation of several coordinated interventions can greatly reduce that risk. For example, where physical distance cannot be maintained, students (over the age of 2 years) and staff can wear face coverings (when feasible). In the following sections, we review some general principles that policy makers should consider as they plan for the coming school year. For all of these, education for the entire school community regarding these measures should begin early, ideally at least several weeks before the start of the school year.”

COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry

They offered guidance on how to safely open schools.

Or at least how to open schools as safely as possible, as the alternative of keeping kids at home has risks too. And many people are skeptical that a strategy of closing schools is all that helpful in controlling the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

So the AAP guidance says that we open schools and also plan for:

  • Physical distancing – cohort classes, block schedules, rotating teachers instead of students, etc.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting
  • Testing and screening – schools will need a rapid response plan for when a child or staff member develops a fever at school.
  • Face Coverings and PPE – although it won’t be possible in all situations and for all children, “school staff and older students (middle or high school) may be able to wear cloth face coverings safely and consistently and should be encouraged to do so.”
  • Organized Activities – although this isn’t something most folks want to hear, they should understand that opening schools doesn’t mean that everything will be back to normal… “It is likely that sporting events, practices, and conditioning sessions will be limited in many locations.”

If we do all of that, will it really be safe to go to school with these guidelines?

Unfortunately, the most important part of the guidelines, the section on Testing and Screening, was a bit light on details…

“Parents should be instructed to keep their child at home if they are ill.”

COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry

The guidelines acknowledge that it will be too hard to do temperature checks and symptom screening each day and that schools should have a rapid response plan if anyone has a fever had school, but then what?

“Here in Colorado, I’ve been following our state health department website very closely. They update data every day and include the outbreaks in the state they are investigating. As you can imagine, there are lots and lots in long-term care facilities and skilled nursing homes, some in restaurants and grocery stores. There have been a total of four in child care centers, and we do have a lot of child care centers open. In almost every one of those cases, transmission was between two adults. The kids in the centers are not spreading Covid-19. I’m hearing the same thing from other states, as well.”

Why a Pediatric Group Is Pushing to Reopen Schools This Fall

So what’s going to happen if kids in school start to get sick and test positive for COVID-19?

Among the 950 COVID-19 in Texas daycare centers are 307 children.
Among the 950 COVID-19 in Texas daycare centers are 307 children. (Dallas Morning News)

The 60,000 members of the AAP who didn’t participate in writing the guideline know what’s going to happen…

A ton of parents from the school are going to call their pediatricians looking to get their kids tested!

What likely should happen?

That classroom or cohort and their close contacts should move to self-quarantine and home/online education until they pass the incubation period from their last contact.

“Put in place the infrastructure and resources to test, trace and isolate new cases.”

Safely Reopening America’s Schools and Communities

(I’m guessing we will get more details about this from the AAP soon and well before school starts. )

Most importantly though, our communities should do everything they can to keep their case counts down – wash hands, practice social distancing, wear a face cover.

And if we are going to send our kids back to school, we should make sure that we are protecting all of the folks making that possible.

Can we do all of that?

Sure!

Will we???

Sending Your Kids Back to School

Are you still unsure about whether or not you should send your own kids back to school?

I don’t blame you…

Some things to consider when making the decision:

  • is your child or any of their contacts at risk for a more severe case of COVID-19, including having an underlying, chronic medical condition, keeping in mind that the risk increases with age, especially once you reach age 65 years? If possible, online schooling might be a better option for students in high risk categories.
  • was staying home from school hard for your child? If your child had problems learning at home or the social isolation was an issue, than that would make going back to school even more important.
  • will your school or school district be “flexible and nimble” and respond to new information, rising case counts, and evolve their policies if necessary?

Most importantly, if you send your kids back to school, are you going to be constantly worried that they are going to get COVID-19 or bring home the SARS-CoV-2 virus? If so, then keep them home this fall.

On the other hand, if they are healthy, have no high risk contacts at home, and are eager to go back to school, then you should probably feel comfortable sending them if the school follows the guidance offered by the AAP.

More on COVID-19

Author: Vincent Iannelli, MD

Vincent Iannelli, MD